Rumours have abounded since last year that the military is planning to planning to abolish a subsidy program called the Security and Defence Forum, which funds about a dozen university research centres touching on military affairs, almost all of them right-wing and pro-military. (The singular exception is York University.) Now, according to Jack Granatstein, those cuts are poised to go forward. The SDF research centres will have their funding slashed, and then eliminated entirely.
My own feelings on the SDF programs are well documented. The granting process is opaque and suspect, the academics who survive on the military dole seldom have this connection noted when they are quoted in public, usually (though certainly far from always) defending the military perspective on one issue or another, and the prospect that the military is essentially running an entire branch of social science in Canada is a disturbing one which raises serious questions about the neutrality of the research being produced.
But despite my objections, I actually have very mixed feelings about the elimination of SDF. This will no doubt come as a warm surprise to at least one of my sometime readers, a professor who claimed that by criticizing the links to the military I was devaluing the meaning of a Canadian university degree. That’s because Granatstein himself is missing the big picture here: a government that is bound and determined to do nothing, know nothing, and for God’s sake carry out no research whatsoever. Granatstein says the SDF is a victim of DND bean-counters, but the bean-counters are just the cowardly loyal implementers of a bigger agenda. They can’t be blame in isolation.
Granatstein correctly points out that most of the SDF-funded military research programs will be shutting down in the absence of military funding. He says the survivors will be the ones who can line up solid funding to replace the government cheques. One example of this are the pair of institutions that do security studies at the University of Calgary, the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute (where Jack is a senior fellow), and the Centre for Military Strategic Studies. CDFAI has received Foreign Affairs money in the past, and the CMSS lives on the SDF subsidy from the military. But both (ironically) do joint fundraising with the anti-tax activist Jack Mintz’s School for Public Policy, and both get a sizeable block of their budget paid for by an anonymous contributor, a shadowy figure whom CDFAI reports refer to only as “the patron and member in good standing.”
Now, I have sound reason to believe that the patron in question is one of the Mannix brothers, energy-and-construction tycoons who would be on the shortlist if I had to draw up a set of Canadian equivalents to America’s Koch brothers, the secretive financiers of the Tea Party movement. So the alternative to open funding by the Department of National Defence is apparently secret funding by the oil industry, and obviously you’ll understand when I say that one is decidedly worse than the other.
The second point, though, is the one that I think Granatstein is missing. Yes, the people swinging the axe in this case are the civil servants at DND. And at the beginning of the day, it probably was their idea to include the SDF in the round of programs to be eliminated. But when this country can afford to buy $30 billion worth of unnecessary fighter-bombers and can’t afford to carry out a few million dollars a year in social science research, it’s time to ask hard questions. Recently the government has been making grand statements about the importance of our military history, and claims it is bolstering appreciation of that history by renaming the air force and the navy after the Crown. Wouldn’t a more meaningful contribution to military history be the funding of research into that history? Look at the U.S. Army War College’s links to the academy, both historians and political scientists, as a valid example.
A military-academic complex is a troubling notion, but in Canada we’re presently rushing pell-mell in the opposite direction. Distracted by economic woes and misled by media grandstanding about the unaffordability of social services, Canadians have elected a government that stands well to the right of the American centre, not in practice but in principle. Harper and his closest advisors, with their history in the Albertan separatist movement, came to office with a set of values wholly alien to Canadian tradition. They are the Canadian equivalent of the American states’ rights movement, foisting everything possible down onto the provinces who can now “decide for themselves” what to do. (We reached the nadir of this in the spring, when Harper seriously proposed that the provinces should be allowed to freely decide how elections for federal politicians would be held, or if they would be held at all.)
And they are also the Canadian equivalent of the American anti-intellectual movement. They are backed here as there by legions of creationist morons and short-sighted climate change denialists (also morons) who will proclaim until they’re blue in the face that the science supports the position or that, when it is inevitably revealed that it does not support their position, that science doesn’t matter because it’s controlled by the left-wing establishment. Instead these parties believe that government should be run on the basis of pure ideology. So they scrap science and basic research. They lay off government scientists, censor the ones who remain, appoint a young-Earth creationist as science minister, publicly discredit the government’s own statistics agency, destroy the reliability of the national census, eliminate grants to the SDF centres, attempt to convert the massive SSHRC university research agency into a business subsidy program, turn both SSHRC and NSERC over into the hands of corporate directors when that fails, and turn a clean energy research program at the University of Calgary into a farcical policy talk shop run by Conservative con man Bruce Carson.
The broader agenda is clear, and shows why the anti-SDF plan was readily accepted by Cabinet. This government doesn’t want research. They don’t want scientific, reliable information about the world around them. They want to govern this country purely on the basis of hunches informed by ideology and by the whispers of God in their ears.
Humanity has gone down that path many times before. It seldom ends well. Ironically, the most egregious examples of it in the 20th century were socialists, the ones the Harper government and its friends in the Tory blogging community are currently engaged in an all-out crusade against. And on that note, rest in peace, Jack. Grim as the situation may seem, I think you managed to check out before the storm hit.Tweet